Eye Opener on the South Bank
Report by John Derris


Magicians have employed visual and optical illusions for years - identical donkeys one of which can be "stretched" etc. - but a new extensive exhibition - Eyes, Lies & Illusions at The Hayward Gallery on the South Bank in London goes into a history of the art and artifice of optical illusion from the Renaissance to the present day that is truly staggering. It draws on the extraordinary collection of German experimental film-maker Werner Nekes supported by a selection of contemporary visual art by modem artists and many outstanding exhibits that have been specially constructed like the Ames Room where two people of equal size can be made to magically shrink or grow by the use of false perspective. And a full size Camera Obscura on the roof that projects a live, moving vista of Waterloo Bridge onto a wall.

The exhibition moves from the ancient art of shadowplay to tricks of light involving perspective and the psychology of perception. There are many items to interest magicians and inspire new effects, like a set of playing cards that reveal a secret message when backlit. There are walking canes and chess pieces that hide the profile of famous people, pieces that secretly communicate censored information from political to pornographic, puzzle pictures and yes, the well-known to magicians Flick Book that was first devised in the 16th century.


On three floors you will see a range of intriguing media and artworks - anamorphoses, tricks of perspective, hidden and double images, manuscripts, prints and books, cameras, games and toys and early forms of animation. Magician and historian Bob Read even discovered an engraving showing hand shadows that pre-dates current information.

Strongly recommended for all those who deceive the eye for a living. Open until 3rd January 2005. Information: 08703 800 400.



The Ames Room where the false perspective can make a person appear taller or shorter. Bob Read (right) is 5'9" wheras German film-maker Werner Nekes (left) is 6'2" (photo by John Derris).

John Derris, October 2004